U.S. space shuttle crew eager to fly
Fri Jan 7, 2005 10:23 PM GMT
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By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Astronauts assigned to NASA's first space shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster say they are confident mistakes and technical problems that led to that accident are in the past.
"If it wasn't safe, I wouldn't get on it," said Eileen Collins, 48, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and commander of the shuttle Discovery crew.
Launch is set for mid-May and Collins and her five-man, one-woman crew are scheduled to spend 13 days in space on what NASA managers are calling a test flight to practice inspection procedures and heat shield repair techniques developed since the Columbia accident.
Columbia fell from the sky over Texas on February 1, 2003, breaking up as it re-entered the atmosphere because of damage to the leading edge of its left wing. All seven astronauts aboard were killed.
The wing was damaged by falling insulation from the shuttle's external fuel tank during launch 16 days earlier.
The astronauts spoke to reporters during a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre to see the new external fuel tank for Discovery. The tank arrived at the space Centre on Thursday.
"We're all really celebrating now," said Collins on Friday. "It's time for us to go fly."
TESTING REPAIR TECHNIQUES
During the mission, Collins and her crew will test inspection procedures using a new camera-laden boom to check the ship's belly and wings. The astronauts also will devote the first of three spacewalks to experiment with various putty, patches and procedures for repairing damage to the shuttle's heat-resistant tiles and reinforced carbon wing panels.
NASA plans next week to pare down the half-dozen repair proposals under development to two or three that will be tested in orbit, said deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale.
"I'm very comfortable with many of the options," said spacewalker Charles Camarda, 52, who will be making his first space flight aboard Discovery.
In case the shuttle is damaged beyond repair, NASA has a plan to shelter the shuttle crew aboard the International Space Station until a rescue mission arrives.
Before Discovery lifts off, shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to be far enough along in its pre-flight processing to be able to launch in 33 days, Hale said.
In addition to Camarda, Collins' crew is made up of pilot James Kelly, 40, flight engineer and spacewalker Stephen Robinson, 49, and mission specialists Andrew Thomas, 53, Wendy Lawrence, 45, and Soichi Noguchi, 39, with the Japanese space agency.
The Discovery mission, which will mark NASA's painful and expensive return to manned flights, is also slated to deliver critical gear to the space station. The station has had to make do with just small deliveries aboard Russian cargo ships since the Columbia accident.